Fire safety starts in kitchen
by Dele Peterson
Oct 10, 2013 | 7292 views | 0 0 comments | 429 429 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The week in which Oct. 9 falls is Fire Prevention Week, commemorating the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Every year, the National Fire Protection Association chooses a specific fire safety topic to raise awareness and prevent fires. This year, the emphasis is on preventing kitchen fires. Here are a few quick facts:

In 2011, U.S. fire departments responded to 370,000 home structure fires. These fires caused 13,910 civilian injuries, 2,520 civilian deaths and $6.9 billion in direct damage.

On average, seven people die in U.S. home fires each day.

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries; two in five home fires start in the kitchen.

U.S. Fire Departments responded to roughly 156,600 cooking-related fires a year between 2007 and 2011, resulting in 400 civilian deaths, 5,080 civilian injuries and $853 million in direct damage.

Unattended cooking was a factor in 34 percent of reported home cooking fires.

Two-thirds of the fires started with the ignition of food or other cooking materials.

Ranges accounted for 58 percent of the incidents and ovens for 16 percent.

Clothing was the item first ignited in less than 1 percent of home cooking fires, but those incidents accounted for 16 percent of the cooking fire deaths.

Knowing these scary statistics, wouldn’t you like to prevent a fire from starting in your kitchen?

Many of the individual figures lead us to the prevention measures that would have stopped the fires in the first place. For instance, don’t wear loose-fitting clothing when cooking. Don’t leave cooking food unattended. Take extreme care when using a range or oven.

What other prevention measures do the statistics above bring to mind? Here are a few suggestions that will hopefully lead to a safer kitchen at your house:

Often, when fire departments are called to a cooking-related fire, the residents say they left the kitchen for only a few minutes. Sadly, that’s all it takes for a dangerous fire to start. Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short time, turn off the stove.

Keep anything that can catch fire away from the stovetop, including oven mitts, wooden utensils, towels and so on.

Have a lid nearby while you’re cooking on the stovetop to smother small grease fires in pots or pans. Smother a fire by sliding the lid over the pan, in a manner that forces the heat away from your body. Then turn off the stovetop, leaving the lid in place until the pan is completely cooled.

For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.

Have a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet around the stove and other areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.

Also, test your smoke detectors monthly, change the batteries annually and replace smoke detector units at least every 10 years.

For more information, as well as fun family activities, please visit

• To Protect & Serve is an occasional column in Our Town written by local safety officers. Maria Dele Peterson is a Tracy Fire Department fire engineer. She can be reached at

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